TV ads highlight spat between top Democrat, N.J. teachers union

New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Thorofare. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Thorofare. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

An unlikely feud between New Jersey’s top Democrat and its largest teachers union is playing out on your TV.

In June, the New Jersey Education Association endorsed Republican Fran Grenier, a Woodstown councilman, in his bid for the state Senate.

What’s notable is who the union didn’t endorse: Grenier’s opponent, Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Sweeney and the NJEA had sparred over how much the Legislature would spend on education funding. The Democrat has also been a frequent political ally of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and regular thorn-in-the-side to the union.

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The quarrel spilled over into this year’s statewide election.

Now the union and Sweeney loyalists have launched television ads in the South Jersey market, hoping to rally voters for a ballot showdown in November.

One 30-second spot warns potential voters: “Steve Sweeney doesn’t get things done for you … unless you count cutting education funding.” The ad was paid for by Garden State Forward, a political advocacy group funded solely by the NJEA.

A competing commercial attacks Grenier’s record in Woodstown, a rural Salem County borough, claiming that, “property taxes go up every year Grenier is in office. Grenier has no answer. Homeowners in his town are squeezed.” The narrator in the ad, which is funded by the pro-Sweeney super PAC New Jerseyans For a Better Tomorrow, even mispronounces the Republican’s last name.

“They just made an enemy,” said Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray of the NJEA.

Murray, who pegs Sweeney as the favorite to win, said the union may have overplayed its hand against the powerful Democrat, and that it could dog them in the future.

“They could find themselves on the outside looking in when certain things come up that are extremely important to them as a union,” Murray said.

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